The Octagon House (ca. 1855)

By David R. Schleper

The mid-19th century saw an American fascination with exotic architecture, and forms from other countries – Turkish pavilions, Swiss chalets, Chinese pagodas – began springing up. The unique American contribution to innovative house shapes was the octagon house, a style made popular by amateur architect Orson Squire Fowler.

The Octagon House
The Octagon House on the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Dakota Street.

Fowler extolled the virtues of healthier lifestyle and economy of his design. Although more than a thousand octagon houses were built, American preference for four-sided dwellings won out. Most of these homes, from grand mansions to humble country Victorians, were built within a decade between roughly 1850 and 1860, before the American Civil War.

The Octagon House in Shakopee was built before 1869, as it was shown in a map in 1869. The Octagon House was located on the corner of Dakota and Second Streets. Second Street is shared with a railroad track. It was a two story house. A segment of the 1869 map showed the house at the center of the image.

At least one octagon house, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was used as a station sheltering escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad.  Isaac Brown, a carpenter and trader with Native Americans, reportedly grew fearful of attacks from them in 1856, so he built a house that was designed for hiding. An Orson Fowler-designed eight-sided structure, it contained nine secret passageways and spaces. A tunnel was built between the house and a woodshed, which was used as a safe house on the Underground Railway. A small storage room beneath the front porch was used to hide the runaway slaves.

The Octagon House in Shakopee was torn down in 1940.

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